Utility companies are facing a range of challenges, but rugged mobile devices can help overcome them.
30 Nov 2021

Five Challenges in the Utilities Industry and How to Overcome Them

The global utility market is on a growth curve. The Business Research Company forecasts that the industry will reach $5996.57 billion in 2025 at a compounded annual growth rate of seven percent. Utilities need to embrace digital transformation and overcome a few key challenges to achieve this growth. These include:

Legacy infrastructure

Assets are the beating heart of the utility industry and what most of the workforce strives to preserve. The challenge in maintaining these assets is two-fold: first, many are aging rapidly and are often insubstantial to meet the needs of a changing industry. Second a dwindling pool of skilled talent that can efficiently maintain these aging assets. Entities like smart grids are becoming a part of the everyday vocabulary in the utility industry. Still, integrating physical assets or operational technology (OT) with information technology (IT) remains a struggle for many companies. Most are left grappling with this question: How do we modernize our assets without reinventing the wheel?

Predictive maintenance of assets is one of the key advantages the industry can harness through digital transformation. Sensor-driven data helps workers tell when assets are about to fail so they can use their time more efficiently. Rugged mobile devices serve as critical platforms to access data and make decisions on the field.

Rugged mobile devices on field sites help workers handle the continually evolving challenges of their job.

Inefficient use of personnel

The utility industry workforce faces the constant challenge of stewardship of assets, which can be a difficult task. In addition, they must collect valuable data about assets, a job that might not be their primary focus. Field services have always been the company’s face, but that job has become more complicated in today’s customer service environment. Customers are getting more demanding and need faster service, increasing the pressure on the workforce.

The utility industry must also deal with decreasing profit margins and decreasing availability of skilled talent. Utility companies need to ensure the right person is being dispatched efficiently on the right job at the right time. The industry itself is changing rapidly, with varying energy sources coming from renewables and traditional sources. These, combined with digital transformation and the smart grid, mean organizations must quickly ramp up worker training. Rugged mobile devices on field sites help workers handle the continually evolving challenges of their job.

The modern digital transformation of the utility industry might run on data. Too often, there is excessive redundancy in the data collection process. Antiquated protocols mandate workers gather the same data repeatedly for input in various data management systems. Such procedures keep workers away from the real job of attending to assets and increase frustration. Many companies still rely on pen and paper, which is also not the most reliable method of data-keeping. As a result, workers must transfer data from one format to another. This wastes time and increases the potential of introducing errors.

Data challenges in the utility industry also manifest in other ways. With digital transformation in place, sometimes companies end up drowning in too much data from too many assets. It isn’t easy to know which data to focus on and what they tell us. Centralized asset management systems and digitized information help make sense of the data gathered. Mobile devices are critical in accessing the correct data at the right time. This makes field service workers decide efficiently and get broken assets back on the grid faster.

When workers use rugged mobile devices with the appropriate enterprise asset management, everyone is on the same page and has access to information in real-time.

Disjointed communication

As the situation on the field changes rapidly, it is essential to have consistent and accessible communication between the onsite worker and the dispatch or home office. Too often, each person is working with a different set of information leading to confusion and delays in asset management. When workers use rugged mobile devices with the appropriate enterprise asset management (EAM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, everyone is on the same page and has access to information in real-time. The bonus of having real-time data helps deliver better customer service. Customers can be seamlessly updated about the status of repairs.

Unpredictability

The unpredictability of extreme weather and natural disasters can lead to downed assets simply by cutting off access to assets for extended periods. These problems lead to increased reactive maintenance and responses by field workers. At the same time, worker safety is paramount. Dispatch and workers must balance the need to get utilities back up and running with safety and access challenges.

Digital transformation is helping utilities stay ahead of the curve with predictive maintenance of assets that might be about to fail. This allows the workforce to stay on top of emerging problems before they worsen. Mobile devices likewise play a critical role in accessing data and the correct information while on the road.

Real-time information is critical for field workers to do their jobs efficiently and quickly.

The utilities industry is facing many complex challenges. Mobile devices help workers address these challenges efficiently. Rugged mobile devices also facilitate all kinds of work in utilities: vegetation mapping and management, smart water reading, surveying, and GIS tasks. These jobs, too, have common pain points mobile devices can address well.

Scott Thie is the Director of Sales at Getac. With over 25 years’ experience in the tech industry, Scott's expertise includes creating a sustainable and scalable sales model that delivers comprehensive solutions to key vertical markets such as utilities, healthcare, and enterprise.

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